By Chioma Okezie-Okeh
Nkemjika Nwokem is a 30-year-old man. But Ogun State Police Command described him as one of the most wanted car thieves in the state. He was linked to several car thefts and robberies under investigation by the police command in the state.
But the young man got his recompense recently. Luckily, he was arrested by policemen on patrol who saved him from the hands of an angry mob that caught him in the act. Unknown him, his latest target had pleaded with roadside sellers to keep an eye on his Lexus SUV while he was shopping at Sabo market in Ogun State. He had opened the car door when the roadside sellers observed that he was not the owner of the car.
According to the state police spokesman, DSP Abimbola Oyeyemi several persons in Ogun who were victims besieged the station recounting their experiences. One of the complainants who lost N1.5millon was able to produce a CCTV (closed circuit television) footage showing how the suspect managed to steal the money from his car. Efforts are ongoing to track down and arrest other suspects who are still at large, he stated.
Story of my life
Recounting how he perfected the act of breaking into cars, Nwokem, a native of Umuaka in Orlu area, Imo state told Saturday Sun that he learnt the skill while living in Ivory Coast.
“I am 30 years old and married with a child. My family lives at Idiro Street, Ekenwe Road in Benin City in Edo State. I was born and brought up in Benin and my parents are still there. After my secondary school education, I learnt how to buy and sell hair attachment and wigs in Onitsha and started my own business after three years as an apprentice.
“I started exporting goods to Ivory Coast. I will buy from Lagos and Onitsha and sell or export to that country. I have resident permit there, so whenever I go, I will spend some months before coming back. They prefer Nigerian products because it is better than the ones they import from China.
“It was while in Ivory Coast that I learnt how to break into people’s cars. We did it over there to survive when business is not moving very well. I got into trouble and I was deported from that country.”
Back home in Nigeria, Nwokem claimed that he went into smuggling business, which failed. “To survive, I had to start smuggling goods into Cotonou and Togo. I was caught twice and I lost all the goods that I was exporting to those countries. Life became harder for me because my current wife was pregnant and her parents insisted that I must marry her. I had to raise money for the emergency wedding and most importantly get ready for the arrival of a new child.
“I sold my father’s land and tried to start business again, but the COVID-19 lockdown destroyed everything. The little money that I had was spent on feeding. I had no choice but to start what I learnt in Ivory Coast.”
Determined to hide his dark side from his family, Nwokem, with the excuse that he was travelling for a business trip, started breaking into cars to steal valuables. “I am seen as a responsible man and I know that if I try anything in Benin or Imo State, I will be caught. Till date, no one in my family knew why I was deported. They felt that I no longer want to travel abroad because of my wife and daughter.
“I would hang around banks or market and observe the movement of people, especially those with cars. Most of our targets will quickly step out of their cars without locking it. I will sneak in fast and steal all valuables if the area is clear. I only take cars when necessary and the buyer is willing to pick it up immediately. I had to avoid stealing cars in Nigeria because of policemen on patrol. And for the past one year that I started stealing, I operate within Lagos, Ogun, Ondo and Abia States. I do not have permanent gang members but I know a lot of bad boys who I hire for a quick job.”
On the video where he was spotted through CCTV camera, Nwokem claimed that the owner of the car left the door open.
“I had gone to Ogun to hustle and while I was hanging around, I saw the owner of that Nissan Pathfinder step out of the bank with a bag. I asked my friend who was riding the okada to follow him. We trailed him till he stopped in-front of a shop and stepped down to buy something. I quickly opened the car and took the bag. Luckily the money inside was N1.5million.
“I gave the guy riding the motorbike N100,000 and took the rest. I am in serious debt, so I used the money to reduce it a bit. My debtors were embarrassing my family and have threatened to lock me up if I fail to pay up.
“I became broke again and decided to try my luck again. I went to Sabo market and noticed a man park his car at a deserted place and went into the market. I had earlier seen him come out from a bank around that area. The bag that he was holding was kept in the car, so I assumed that the money would be inside there. I was about to open the car, when some young boys selling orange grabbed me. I never knew that the owner of the car had asked them to watch the car for him. They raised the alarm and people gathered and started beating me mercilessly.
“I noticed a police patrol vehicle close to the area and I managed to escape. I ran to them and they saved me. This is how I made it to the police station alive.
“I am sorry and beg for forgiveness. I am ready to sell my father’s properties to raise money and repay the N1.5million. Please forgive me for the sake of my daughter,” he pleaded.